Sai learned compassion at an early age from her grandfather. On the day of her high school graduation, her grandfather made his daily stop in front of a grocery store in American Samoa feeding and conversing with people experiencing homelessness. He persuaded her to get out of the car, the comfortable place where she had watched him numerous times and speak to these same folks. After hearing a woman’s story of loss, devastation and pain, she remembered only these words from their encounter, “Hold onto your children and keep fighting.”
Sai, spent most of her adult life in California, playing basketball at San Diego State on a scholarship. With a love for learning, she went on to earn another bachelor’s degree in psychology from University of San Francisco and a master’s degree in social work from University of Southern California. With newly earned degrees in hand, she seemingly had her life set up for success, until she moved to Las Vegas with a man that would soon be her child’s father in 2005.
Hoping to further her career, Sai went back to school and earned a bachelor's degree in human services from the University of Phoenix in Las Vegas. Despite landing a job with the state, she grew lonely, bored and began to spend time with the wrong crowd. “We had no family out there. We were in the middle of nowhere,” Sai explained. Alcohol became her vice. After several DUIs, lack of life changes and multiple violations of house arrest, she was sentenced to 5 months in prison. She lost her job. She lost her child.
Her time in lock up created a mental shift. She realized the downward spiral that her life had taken and decided that she didn’t want to live that way anymore. She needed to be better and do better for her daughter. Paroled out on good behavior, she moved back to California to be with her family and design a plan to heal. By this time, her daughter and her child’s father had moved to Arizona – she knew that was where she needed to be. On May 4, 2018, Sai moved to Phoenix with $22, a blanket, a small suitcase and the clothes on her back. Not having any resources or family, she chose to stay in a shelter and volunteer – an ode to her grandfather’s memory and to help heal those suffering in the way she had been. After residing at Central Arizona Shelter Services, she was given an opportunity to stay at SVdP’s new Ozanam Shelter for older adults on June 14. “It felt like a new beginning. Like I can really make a difference. I can work to get my daughter back.”
Residents grew to know and love Sai volunteering at the front desk, making coffee and retrieving messages. “My case worker, lawyer and mentor have all poured into me. It feels good to be trusted and depended upon. I’m fighting for my daughter. This place has given me hope.”
Sai is soon moving out of the shelter and wants to leave residents with these final words, “Be kind to yourself. You’re not alone. Don’t be afraid. One step forward makes a difference.”